Jewish Veg takes a stand against the cruel practice of kaporos.
Kaporos is a ritual that takes place in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, the holiday of atonement after the Jewish New Year, which generally falls in September. During kaporos, a chicken is swung over a participant’s head three times while a prayer is said. The chicken is supposed to absorb the sins of the participant, and then the bird’s throat is slit. Chickens are often held painfully by their wings while being swung.
The ritual of kaporos is not discussed in the Torah or the Talmud. In the ninth century, a handful of Jewish scholars claimed that since the Hebrew word gever means both “man” and “rooster,” punishment of the bird could be substituted for that of a human.
Practitioners of kaporos often claim that the chickens killed in the event are donated to charity as food, but this is usually not the case, with birds’ bodies strewn about the streets or tossed in piles of trash.
In New York City, where the largest kaporos rituals take place on city streets, some 50,000 birds are killed in the slaughters that take place throughout a week. This is only after the birds are shipped in and stacked in crates for many days with their own feces, deprived of food and water, crammed in cages so small they cannot stand up fully or turn around.
“Anyone who walks through the markets can see that the manner in which the chickens are held before the Kapparot is insufferable. There is no veterinary supervision and no concern for the feelings of these poor creatures.” - Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism
This is not only a health hazard for people in the area, but a crisis of Jewish faith. The core Torah mandate of tsa'ar baalei chaim prohibits causing animals pain. Indeed, the welfare of animals is so important that the Fifth Commandment mentions them specifically, and they too must be allowed to rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10). To read more about our duty to animals, click here.
The use of chickens as kaporos is also simply unnecessary—many rabbis agree that money is a perfect substitute during the ritual.
“It is absurd that people are asking for life by taking the life of another creature, especially when Kapparot can be done with money.” - Chedva Vanderbrook, Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Jewish Veg is committed to protecting all animals who are treated with immense cruelty. Please read more about the nine billion more chickens who are killed for food each year in the U.S.—this is a number that dwarfs that of the chickens used as kaporos, and cannot be ignored.
Jewish Veg stands with the Alliance to End Chickens As Kaporos and the Shamayim V’aretz Institute, who have both provided excellent information on the topic, as well as lists of Orthodox rabbis who have come out in opposition to the practice of chicken kaporos.
Want to learn more about what you can do to help end this cruelty? Sign up here for our Kaporos Action Committee!
Learn more here:
- New Book: "Kapporos Then and Now: Toward a More Compassionate Tradition" by Yonassan Gershom
- Transferring Sins onto a Chicken? Rabbi Questions Kapparot Ritual
Thank you to Unparalleled Suffering Photography for the photographs.